Back from a short biz-trip to let you know I still don’t know what the Mets are doing with these uni issues, the latest being T.J. Rivera’s recall from Las Vegas and subsequent assignment of No. 54.
I was with everyone else in advocating the Mets issue the recently freed-up No. 2 to Rivera but hadn’t a particularly strong argument for it until my friend Edward at the Crane Pool alerted me to this Daily Snooze profile detailing how Rivera got to the Mets in the first place:
“I told Tommy, ‘I can’t believe nobody drafted T.J. You can’t go wrong with him,'” recalls [Mackey] Sasser, who was a Met from 1988-92 [and Rivera’s college coach at Wallace Community College in Alabama]. “He’s going to make someone a good player.”
Sasser of course was a notoriously famous No. 2, maybe the jersey’s most memorable character behind manager Bobby Valentine and Marvelous Marv Throneberry, who we now know personally championed an undrafted free agent who reached the majors on the strength of his hitting. That the Mets somehow overlooked this intersection of opportunity (the Dilson Herrera trade) and appropriateness, while going completely off-script and making Rivera the first non-pitcher/non-coach ever to wear 54 isn’t a great signal they’re doing this whole uni-number-issuing thing correctly.
The Mets on the other hand aren’t doing much of anything right lately, culminating in this week’s deserved sweeping at the hands of the awful Arizona Diamondbacks and their fugly uniforms. Terry Collins yesterday made a show of demanding a fresh start from his guys, a move that could prove to be too late to save them or him.
Speaking of bad teams in fugly uniforms, my travels this week took me to the Twin Cities where I witnessed Target Field for the first time, encountering what for me was an odd site — the homestanding Twins in bright-red home jerseys. The stadium was quite nice, bonus points for locating it within moments of a train station, but the unis bothered me until I realized the none-too-subtle message I’m sure they were meant to deliver. Cheap chic indeed.
A prodigious slugger who nonetheless was known best for his defense — precisely, the lack of it — Dick Stuart was the first Met player ever to be acquired as the “1” in a 3-for-1 trade.
Desperate for a power hitter to punch up the league’s worst offense, Stuart was acquired from the Phillies on the eve of 1966 spring training for catcher Jimmie Schaefer, infielder Bobby Klaus, and outfielder Wayne Graham — all residents of the Mets’ AAA roster at the time, and none with particularly promising futures. A first baseman known as “Dr. Strangeglove” for on-field butchery, Stuart nevertheless was coming off a 28-homer season with the Phillies and connected for 220 home runs over eight seasons with three teams. He’d also led his league in errors at first base base seven times (sharing the NL lead in 1962 with Marv Throneberry). “Most baseball people feel the 33-year-old stopped trying to improve a long time ago,” Joe Donnelly wrote in Newsday.
Stuart might also have been looked to to provide the Mets with some color now that Casey Stengel was gone. Stuart famously hit 66 home runs and drove in 158 for the Lincoln Chiefs of the Western League in 1956. Stuart wasn’t shy about promoting that figure, often including the number “66” — then a professional record for home runs in a season — as part of his signature. Stuart talked about as loudly as he hit, in fact. According to the Baseball Biographical Encylopedia, he was once quoted as follows
“I like to walk down the street and hear them say, ‘Jesus, there goes Dick Stuart.’ I like to see my name in the paper, especially in the headlines. I crave it. I deserve them headlines.”
For the Mets, Stuart had his eyes on Ed Kranepool’s job and his uni number, but wound up with neither. Like Kranepool, Stuart was a first baseman and wore No. 7 — he even drove a Lincoln Continental with license plates DS-7 — but was issued No. 10 with the Mets in Spring Training. He’d trade that for 17 when the games began. The first-base job was arranged by platoon: Stuart started vs. lefthanders and Kranepool vs. righties, with Kranepool also getting the occasional start in left field on Stuart’s day to play. But Stuart battled a rib cage injury and was hitting just .218 with four home runs, five GIDPs and 26 whiffs in just 96 plate appearances when the Mets released him in June. He’d resurface later that year with the Dodgers, spend two years with the Taiypo Whales of Japan, and make a brief comeback with the Angels in 1969.